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What’s the Goal for ‘Young Bucs’ at Spring Training?

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Paul Skenes, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pirates prospects

Spring training is the time for many things. The return of baseball, a glimpse of sunshine and what summer will bring, and perhaps most of all, competition.

Competition for roster spots on the opening day roster. For the Pittsburgh Pirates, there is much to be settled before now and the season opener against the Miami Marlins on March 28.

The Pirates have open competition in several key spots on their roster. They have two spots in the rotation still unsettled, second base up for grabs and a starting right fielder still to be determined.

With all of that, the Pirates have plenty of players in camp who will not be on the opening day roster. Heck, some aren’t even close to competing for a spot just yet.

So, what do the Pirates hope their lower level prospects get out of their time in major-league camp?

“There are varying levels of it,” manager Derek Shelton said. “But No. 1, the experience. The guys in their first camps, you want them to enjoy it. You want them to have a good experience. The second thing that’s equally as important is being around veteran guys. We’re transitioning this year. We have more veteran guys in camp.

“There’s the ability to learn and listen. Even our guys internally who have come through — [Ke’Bryan Hayes] and [Bryan Reynolds] — they’re getting to be veterans. They’re veteran-ish. No. 1 is just enjoying the camp. No. 2 is making sure that any situation they’re in, they’re learning.”

If enjoying the experience and learning are the two main goals for the prospects in camp, it certainly looks like Termarr Johnson is a fast-learner.

Johnson, the Pirates’ 2022 first-round draft pick, was all smiles when circling the bases after belting his second home run of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday.

In fact, Johnson has reached base safely in six of his last eight plate appearances after going 1 for 2 in the Pittsburgh Pirates victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. Through six games this spring, Johnson is slashing .455/.500/1.091.

I spoke with him in Bradenton when I was at Pirate City during the first week of spring training. His goal for his second-career spring training was simple.

“Just learn what I can from the guys around me and learn what I can from the coaches and the organization. That’s the biggest thing for me,” he said.

If the early returns are any indication, it sure seems like he’s learned a lot. He may even be teaching some of the older players a thing or two.

Johnson isn’t the only notable prospect in big-league camp this year. Paul Skenes, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft is with him.

Skenes made his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday. The impressive right-hander tossed a perfect 1-2-3 inning against fellow top prospect Jackson Holliday and the Baltimore Orioles.

Skenes’ philosophy this spring was quite similar to Johnson’s.

“Just learning and getting better with a group of guys,” said Skenes during his first week of spring training. “It was nice to have the offseason and get some good work on my own, but I think there is something valuable to being on a team, getting to work with the same guys every day. We’ve got a lot of good guys with a cool pedigree in the major-leagues that hopefully I’m going to pick their brains on it. I’m just looking forward to that.”

Fellow prospect Jack Brannigan, a third-round pick in 2022 out of Notre Dame has received plenty of playing time early on in the Pirates’ Grapefruit League slate.

Brannigan is tied for second on the team with 11 at-bats this spring. His goal? You guessed it. Learn.

“These guys have done it much longer than I have, they have so much more experience than I do,” he said. “It’s valuable experience that I can learn from, so I’m just gonna try and take it all in and enjoy it while I can and try to learn something from all these guys.”

So while some of the more senior players focus on trying to head to Miami at the end of the month, the prospects will learn as much as they can from them and others for the time being.

Keep studying, young Bucs. Class is in session. Maybe have some fun, too.

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